Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The American Poor

We have a new professor called Steve Ross who takes a week long module for us. It's Day 2 and boy has he shown up in my life right when he was needed!
It's been a rough few weeks. Too much work. Too many annoyances. And dissatisfied professors. So for Steve Ross, who taught at Columbia University for more than a decade to manage not to be completely stupefied at our stupidity comes as a BIG encouragement.

So anyway, I could go on about him, but I don't wanna ramble cuz i'm not nearly as FANTASTIC as he is at that area (I swear i've never met anybody who could start off talking about a nuclear awareness website and branch off into the working of a battery made from cowdung and ACTUALLY make sense before. Is it still rambling if you paranthetise? Is paratherise a word?)

So Professor Steve Ross was showing us some pictures that his wife Rachel Ellner took for a feature series on the homeless in America. And it was amazing.
I don't mean the photographs, which no no doubt were, but it was the people in the pictures themselves. New York, according to Mr. Ross has thousands and thousands (I remember him saying 150,00, but thats seems so big I'm gonna have to double check) homeless people! Not what you think of when you think of New York sitting here, is it? But what stood out is the in-your-face difference between the poor in America and the poor in India.

In the photos he showed us, it might sound callous (I've been told I sometimes sound so), but the instinctive reaction was to dismiss their suffering. They all wear clothes.. they may look unwashed yes, but it's all there! shirt jacket jeans cap.. some goth homeless girl had some pretty kickass accessories and black nailpolish! Seriously!

Photo from stock.xchng

One of the reasons for this I gathered was the reasons for their poverty. In India, the urban poor are poor because there parents were poor. Except for maybe the disabled ones and the mentally challenged who are abandoned. In America, from what little I saw, poverty was due to a whole variety of other reasons. Lisa ran away from an abusive home. Scott has a severe drug habit. Elise and Roger and drug addicts and broke. All the stereotypical American names are made up btw. The rest is real.

I can't imagine that happening (exceptions prove the rule) to Urban youngsters here. For example, I was not fiercely independent/rebellious/stupid enough to actually run away from home and live on the streets when my parents wanted me to apply for a PhD. My parents would never kick me out of my home even if I had a drug habit (I hope that's not just wishful thinking) and if I ever lost my job, I would probably succumb to the temptation of living off a kind relative, even though I would hate myself for it. I give examples of myself because I can't talk for anybody else. But I dare say there are people who can relate. It's not even that I'm actually that spineless. As a matter of fact I often fancy myself to be a pretty fiercely independent for a 23yr old who still lives with her parents. Might not sound like much but I know more and more people who are a lot more infuriatingly submissive than I am.

Also the American homeless often hang around the streets with boards saying 'Need Work' and other more creative alternatives. Whereas I've never bumped into an Indian homeless person who's asked for a job and not money. Not that any of us rich folks would ever 'risk' employing someone we found on the street (what would the neighbours say!)

Image from http://kjwonka.hubpages.com/hub/New-Yorks-hot-new-export---homeless-people

The difference between the Indian and American homeless is even more emphasized when you look at this NY city website i found for their Dept of Homeless Services. So in this site they have a section called 'Homeless Now?' Can you imagine that! They are actually in a scenario where they can expect homeless people to log into the internet and find this page!

The very notion of having a website for homeless beggars to log on to here in India seems absurd at best..

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